Dismissal rules for teachers must be fixed or children will continue to be in harm’s way

February 1, 2013

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Trevor TenBrink Trevor TenBrink

Trevor was website administrator for EAG from December 2012 to March 2014.
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OAKLAND, Calif. – Parents were outraged in the Brentwood Union School District when a special education teacher was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse and instead of being fired, she was simply transferred to another department.
    
The case highlights how expensive and time-consuming it is to remove an ineffective or dangerous school employee.
    
The Oakland Tribune weighed in:

Brentwood school officials claimed they couldn’t fire a teacher who pulled a 5-year-old student from his chair and kicked him as he lay on the ground. They said state teacher dismissal rules were too cumbersome.

terminatedThey’re wrong on the first point: There was plenty of evidence to pursue a dismissal case against Dina Holder, who eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor child abuse for the incident. And there was no rational reason for leaving her in the classroom for 2½ years.

But Brentwood officials were right about the second point: The teacher discipline and dismissal process is too costly and drawn out. It discourages school officials from trying to get rid of ineffective and abusive teachers, even when they have good cases.

It’s time for the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to act, to stand up to the powerful teachers’ union and do what’s right for our children in the classroom. The discipline and dismissal process must be revised.

Under current law, teachers who aren’t performing up to par or who behave unprofessionally are entitled to an opportunity to correct their behavior before dismissal proceedings begin. But that can mean retraining and new evaluations that can take a year or more. Then, dismissal proceedings can often last another year.

Teachers convicted of a felony, convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude, or who display “evident unfitness for service” can be put straight into the dismissal process, which can still take a year or more. In fact, teachers can’t even be served with notices of dismissals or suspensions between May 15 and Sept. 15 of each year.

Eventually there’s a hearing bfore a panel composed of an administrative law judge and, believe it or not, two employees with teaching credentials. The two must be from outside the district, and have five years’ experience within the past 10 years in the same discipline as the employee charged.

One of the two teachers is picked by the employee, or more typically the union, which trains teachers to serve on such panels. The district must find the other teacher, and often struggles to find one who meets the criteria and yet can serve as a neutral arbiter.

Finally, there’s the cost. If the district wins, it is still on the hook for its attorney fees, which can surpass $100,000 in some cases. If it loses, it must also pay the teacher’s legal fees, which are usually even more.

Four fixes are needed: The time periods in the process must be shorted. The May 15-Sept. 15 moratorium period should be eliminated. The cases should be heard by only an administrative law judge, especially since the rulings are still subject to appeal to Superior Court. And a district shouldn’t be on the hook for huge legal fees if it brings an action in good faith.

It’s time to level the playing field so districts can ensure teachers are competent. Even with those changes, teachers will enjoy very strong protections of their jobs.

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